Dutch government denies it will register gun owners' race, religion

Dutch Justice Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus (pictured July 2018)proposed plans to register the race and religion of gun owners, but lawmakers and gun owner associations insist the proposal breaches privacy rights and could be a form of profiling (AFP Photo/Bart Maat)
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The Hague (AFP) - The Dutch government rowed back Thursday after an uproar over reported plans to register the race and religion of gun owners following a string of European terror attacks.

Lawmakers and gun owner associations insisted the proposal by Justice Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus risked breaching privacy rights and could be a form of "ethnic profiling."

But the ministry insisted in a statement Thursday that the police "will not register the ethnic origin, political opinions, religion, or race of all those who request a licence to carry a firearm. It is not what the government wants."

Proposals to amend firearm licence requirements form part of the Dutch response to new EU guidelines to beef up gun laws after a series of terror attacks including those in Paris on November 13, 2015 in which 130 people died.

"There are diverse risk factors for gun ownership," Grapperhaus said in a memorandum explaining the changes in a concept bill published in late June, the centre-left De Volkskrant daily said.

Therefore police "required personal data including race or ethnical origin, political views, and religious and philosophical convictions," wrote the Christian Democrat minister whose party forms part of Prime Minister Mark Rutte's ruling coalition.

Such inclusions "are unnecessary, even according to the minimum European guidelines," said Monica den Boer, a lawmaker of the progressive D66 party, which is also part of the coalition.

"We don't discriminate and ethnic profile. These proposals must be dropped from the draft bill," she told the paper.

The ministry said Thursday the new law would allow police to access data, however, to determine if an individual "has, for example, contacts with extremist religious or far-right groups," information which "police should be able to use."

Under an EU directive, such information could also be shared with other police forces.

Even some within Grapperhaus' own party opposed the plans before he sought to clarify them.

"I cannot forsee any situation justifying the inclusion of these suggestions," said CDA lawmaker Chris van Dam.

The Royal Dutch Sports Rifling Association (KNSA) said the plans "could have a discriminatory affect" and stigmatise people.

"Almost no shooting incidents (in The Netherlands) are committed with legal weapons" apart from a major shooting in 2011, said KNSA director Sander Duisterhof.

He was referring to one of the country's worst shootings since World War II when 24-year-old Tristan van der Vlis shot dead six people and wounded 16 others at a shopping mall in April that year.

Van der Vlis, who had a gun permit, unleashed a hail of automatic gunfire on lunchtime shoppers before turning the gun on himself. He had suffered from psychological problems before the shooting.

"To think that terrorists will get nervous because of these proposed new rules is wishful thinking by politicians," Duisterhof added.

The new law will be before parliament within the next few weeks, De Volkskrant said.

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